Beginners’ Guide to traveling for (nearly) free through Travel Hacking

Last year I started travel hacking, or leveraging credit card points to earn free travel. Travel hacking can feel really intimidating, no one wants to mess up their credit, but I put together this beginners’ guide to get you traveling for (nearly) free quickly and easily. 

In less than 10-months,  I earned free flights for me and my husband to go to Puerto Rico, a Companion Pass for 2023-2024 (meaning one person can fly with me when I fly for free), three free flights for our family to go to Costa Rica this summer (we paid for 2 tickets) and I will have enough to book another trip for me and my husband to go to Punta Cana in the next 1-2 credit card statements! 

Travel Hacking

Travel Hacking

The best part? You don’t need to open tons of credit cards to get started and you can just charge your everyday expenses and pay them off each month! 

The best time to get into get into travel hacking with Southwest  is October through January because

  • If you want a Southwest Companion Pass you have to earn 135,000 points in a calendar year. Once you earn the pass, you get a free companion for the remainder of that year and all of the following year. In October-December you can sign up for a credit card and hit the minimum spend to activate your bonuses in January. Or if you sign up in January or February it’s still early enough in the year to get your bonus and get good use out of it. 
  • If you start now, you will be able to use your rewards on summer travel! 

Southwest Credit Cards

Get your Southwest Card here

My favorite introduction to travel hacking is through Southwest. This is because the Southwest companion pass is such a good perk and I love that you can get 2 bags checked for free with Southwest. 

 Things to note before getting a Southwest Card:

  • Check to make sure they fly out of an airport near you. They don’t have locations everywhere. (They have lots of options including direct flights to Mexico and the Bahamas from Kansas City.)
  • Make sure they fly where you want to go. If you’re looking to travel to Europe or outside of North America and the Caribbean, I recommend a different airline that will fly there.
  • For anyone looking to get into travel hacking, make sure you can afford to pay off your card each month. Interest will offset any point gains. It’s not worth being in debt.
  • Make sure you have enough expenses to meet the minimum spend for the Sign Up Bonus.

If you’re looking to get the Southwest Companion Pass for 2024-2025, you need to earn 135,000 points in a calendar year. The fastest and easiest way to do this is through credit card sign up bonuses. 

There are two ways to get extra Sign Up Bonus Points:

  • You can sign up for a card and then refer your spouse to get a card which also is linked to your Southwest Rapid Rewards account. You would get the 60,000 sign up bonus, 20,000 referral bonus, AND another 50,000-75,000 in a second sign up bonus, getting you more than enough points for a companion pass.
  • If you have a business, you can open up a credit card for your business and get double the Sign Up Bonuses that way!

Get your Southwest Card here

Chase Sapphire Preferred

Another great introductory travel card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card is great because the points are universal travel points. This means you can earn points all through one card instead of opening cards for multiple airlines or hotel chains. If you’re looking to travel somewhere Southwest doesn’t fly, I recommend this card for flights. Or if you get this in addition to your other Southwest cards, the points can be redeemed for rental cars or hotels. 

Get your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card here

How much (approximately) would you earn if you opened a personal Southwest Card, Business Southwest Card, and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card? 

If you open the Southwest personal and business cards and meet the minimum spend then you would get 130,000 points plus an additional minimum 6,000 points from purchases, meaning you’d  meet the 135,000 point threshold to get the companion pass and have approximately $1,360 worth of points toward travel and travel with a free companion. 

If you open the Chase Sapphire Preferred card and meet the minimum spend then you would get approximately $750 in points toward travel from the bonus as well as an additional $400 from your expenses. 

In total, you’d earn approximately $2,510 in travel as well as a free companion when you travel for up to two years! 

Additional Resources 

The KC Travel Hackers Facebook group is a great resource if you’re located in Kansas City (or anywhere). They post a lot of timely information and tips and are a great resource if you have questions about local or faraway trips. 

I also love @pointsandmilesteachers on Instagram. She has a great email newsletter and has hacked her way to epic trips with her family. 

Photos were all taken on our travel-hacked trip to Puerto Rico. 

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